The Chinese city of Chengdu has a whimsical plan for conserving electricity. In 2020, it hopes to launch an artificial moon—or illumination satellite—that would complement the actual moon’s brightness to light up the city below, reducing the need for streetlights.
This is according to Wu Chunfeng, chairman of the Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute (CASC), who discussed the project at an innovation and entrepreneurship conference in Chengdu last week.
The fake moon, reports the People’s Daily, would glow with an intensity “eight times that of the real moon,” lighting an area with a diameter of 6 to 50 miles. A reflective coating and “solar panel-like wings” would reflect sunlight, and could be controlled within a fraction of a mile, reports the Asia Times.
Neither Wu nor Chengdu’s government provided further details, according to local media. But Wu credited a “French artist” with the idea of orbiting mirrors that could reflect sunlight “through the streets of Paris all year round.”
Wu also claimed that tests began “years ago,” and now the project has reached a point where a launch seems realistic.
Other details, such as the project’s cost and funding, are unknown. However, “CASC is the main contractor for the Chinese space program,” notes The Guardian.
Skeptics also worry that fake moonlight could disrupt the bodyclocks of humans and other animals in Chengdu. The plan calls for the moon to only emit a “dusk-like hue,” one expert told the People’s Daily, and wouldn’t necessarily turn night into day.
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China, is perhaps best known to Westerners for giant pandas, but the city of 14 million is also one of China’s minor technology hubs, and is home to companies like Foxconn, which manufactures products for Apple.
And Chengdu isn’t the first city that’s tried to harness the sun. Heliostat technology, or using mirrored devices to reflect light, is even theorized to have existed in ancient Egypt.
During the 1990s, Russian astronomers and engineers unsuccessfully attempted to extend daylight by launching “space mirror” satellites into orbit, known as the Znamya ("Banner") project. And in 2013, the Norwegian town Rjukan erected solar powered, computerized mirrors that tracked the sun and beamed its rays onto the village during the depths of winter.
Whether Chengdu’s artificial moon will ever see the light of day—that remains uncertain.